Friday, August 21, 2009

Movie Review: Julie & Julia

Rated: PG-13

Website: Official Julie & Julia site

Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina

My Review: Pretty much everything you’ve undoubtedly already read about Julie & Julia is true. It is a cute, entertaining, and often legitimately funny movie that is more about two women’s love affair with food than anything else. Meryl Streep as Julia Child is perfection and every time she’s not onscreen you long for her return. Amy Adams as Child’s modern-day contemporary, Julie Powell, is less so. Not that Adams isn’t charming—she always is—but when both Meryl Streep and Julia Child are in the house (both powerful players in their own right), it’s hard to really care about the Queens-based foodie blogger.

The premise is simple: Follow the lives of two women in two different times as they each discover their passion for preparing (and eating) good food. Julie Powell is a disgruntled government employee living in NYC in 2002, whose daily routine consists of fielding complaints from angry and devastated 9/11 sufferers. When one of her obnoxiously successful friends starts a blog, Powell decides to start one, too, mainly out of boredom and the need to have a “fun” project in her life. Since cooking is her way of unwinding after a tough day, she challenges herself to prepare all of the recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook within one year and blog about the experience. The other story is Julia Child’s, and follows her life in France as she goes through the Le Cordon Bleu school, becomes involved in the creation of a French food cookbook for American cooks, and enjoys life with her devoted husband, Paul. The movie switches back and forth between the two stories, highlighting the parallels between the lives of both women, and while it’s mostly enjoyable, it does feel uneven at times. I found myself longing for more of certain elements, and less of others.

Give Me More:

* Meryl as Julia. She’s the lifeblood of the whole movie, and while it would be so easy to turn a portrayal of Julia Child into a cartoon character (as shown in a scene where Powell and her husband watch Dan Akroyd playing Child in an old SNL skit), Streep manages to capture her as a real person. Julia Child is best known for her loud, braying voice and her insatiable love of food and life in general, but Streep also manages to expertly portray moments of concern, frustration, and disappointment in Child’s life, thus making her human and not just the slightly batty chef we all know.

* Stanley Tucci as Paul Child. The movie belongs to Julie and Julia, so their husbands tend to take a backseat. But Streep and Tucci have such a natural chemistry together onscreen (and she’s so much nicer to him here than she was in The Devil Wears Prada), and Julia and Paul had such an interesting and genuinely loving relationship in real life, that I wanted to see more of him and the life they had together.

* Julie’s cooking. Too much of Julie’s storyline focuses on her blogging, her crappy job, or how her project is straining her relationship with her husband, rather than on her actually cooking the dishes. The few times you do see her cooking in the micro-kitchen in her Queens apartment are the best parts of her half of the movie, so I would have liked to have seen some more. Also, it must have been a challenge for her to find certain ingredients in the city, and seeing her trying to track down specific herbs or spices would have been much more entertaining then seeing her typing on her laptop for the umpteenth time.

Give Me Less:

* Julie’s mother. She only appears in a couple of scenes, and only as a disembodied voice on the other end of a phone call with Julie, but she’s enough of a buzzkill in those few scenes to bring the whole movie down. She doesn’t understand why Julie wastes so much time on a project that no one even cares about, but then in the same breath criticizes her for never finishing anything she starts. And then when people do start reading the blog and new opportunities start rolling in, she changes her mind and decides to finally be proud of her daughter. Julie, I hate to break it to you, but your mother is a total bitch. So hang up the phone and go make a chocolate torte.

* Julia’s cookbook story. A large part of Julia’s story is dedicated to her pursuit in getting her infamous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, published. And while it is an interesting and vital part of her life, the book’s publication is where her story ends, and I wanted to see what happened next. When/how did she start her TV show? How did she adjust to becoming a well-known celebrity? How did she and Paul adjust to living in America after being in Europe for so long? If some of the drama in getting the book published had been trimmed, there might have been time to answer these questions. But since that’s not where the filmmakers went, perhaps there’s hope that they’ll do an entire Julia Child biopic starring Streep. Please?

Bottom Line: Julie & Julia, while not perfect, is an entertaining movie for anyone who is even a casual Meryl Streep fan or who finds watching the Food Network for several hours to be a fun way to spend their time. Just be warned: If you enter the theater hungry, you will leave it absolutely famished.

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